Thursday, 19 November 2009

Like Butter Scraped Over Too Much Bread

If you are anything like me, you have probably been playing the last few months in World of Warcraft bored and annoyed with Blizzard's decisions but didn't stop playing because there was a shimmer of hope in Icecrown Citadel at the horizon. The issue with horizons is that, the more you travel towards them, the faster they move away from you.
The lead encounter designer for World of Warcraft, Scott "Daelo" Mercer, posted yesterday on the topic of Icecrown Citadel access progression.
And, merlin's beard, it sucks.

Gated Content
The first thing you will notice when you read that post is that the Icecrown Citadel wings will be gated. In fact, the second wing will open several weeks after the first one - with similar timespans expected for the other two gates. This is an obvious attempt to elongate the lifespan of the instance and I might even be fine with it - if it wasn't for the new easiness that's found its way into raiding. Ghostcrawler has said before that the effective difficulty of Icecrown will be on par with that of the Crusader's Coliseum - which means ridiculously easy on normal mode.

For a guild like mine this means one-shooting the bosses. So let me lay this out for you: On the first lag-free raid day after the patch we enter Icecrown Citadel, kill some trash, kill a boss, kill some trash, kill a boss, kill some trash, kill a boss, kill some trash, and kill a boss. Unless the trash is extraordinarily hard or annoying, this will be done in a single night. Even much slower guilds will hardly take more than a week for this - and then we all have to wait for weeks until the next wing becomes available. That wing contains even less bosses and should by all logic take even less time to clear. Essentially this will be months of nothing to do (unless you still have unfinished business in TotGC or Ulduar hard modes) until we finally get to see Arthas.

All that isn't the biggest problem with gating, however. The real problem is in Blizzard's hard mode philosophy. If you find normal mode too easy, they say, you can do hard modes instead. Well, we can't - at least not until the Arthas gate has been removed. You need to kill Arthas on normal mode to even be allowed access to hard modes, meaning that hard mode guilds like mine will be completely stranded for months before we can get our hands on some progression material. Months. We're already out of content except for the 25 men hard mode bug and they'll artificially block us from seeing anything interesting for months? This isn't even remotely funny. How are we supposed to keep a guild together and motivated if there is nothing to do?

Larísa says that "It's a bit patronizing, but I'm afraid it's a necessary measure to prolong the life of this patch. Otherwise we'll just rush through it and then instantly start complaining about the lack of new conetent." (sic) Well, she misses the fact that - at least for reasonably "hardcore" guilds - there will be zero content until the hard modes become available. They are not even keeping us busy with little pieces of content once in a while but they are just blocking us from it completely. I highly doubt that this action will create less complaints than making us wait for the next patch/cataclysm a bit.

Limited attempts
The wipe counter is back - and it's pissed. Both normal and hard mode of the four hardest bosses in the dungeon (according to Daelo) will use the limited attempts mechanic we know from Trial of the Grand Crusader. These attempts will be gated too, allowing only 5 after the first gate has opened, 10 after the second, and 15 when all part of the dungeon are available. On normal mode this sounds like an acceptable number, but going into hard modes with only 15 tries available is tough. Interestingly though, this wipe counter doesn't apply to all bosses but just those final four, meaning that on most of the hard mode encounters you are free to wipe as much as you want to.

Essentially this means that only the most hardcore of guilds (certainly not mine) will be able to kill those final hard modes soon. (And by "soon" I mean "months after the release of the instance because of stupid gating.") Additional attempts will become available over time, so by the time we've managed to kill the preceding hard modes my guild will probably have enough attempts for some real wiping. I can live with that.
In fact this means that it would be a bad idea to just go for the final hard modes right away since that would mean you have to kill the other bosses on the way on normal mode - and then not have anything to kill when you run out of attempts. With this implementation you could clear the second wing on normal mode, for example, and try Putricide 14 times, then wipe the rest of the week on other (unlimited) hard modes and finally clear the instance on normal mode before the reset.

Larísa complains that limited attempts are bad for those people who prefer learning by doing instead of theorycraft, but these attempts really only apply to a very limited number of players: Those too bad for normal mode kills and those so hardcore that they just mow through the other hard modes. The latter won't mind some planning ahead, and the former will have enough time between gates (sigh) to learn the mechanics of those bosses even with limited tries.

I'm old, Gandalf. I know I don't look it, but I'm beginning to feel it in my heart. I feel... thin. Sort of stretched, like... butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday. And I don't expect I shall return. In fact I mean not to.
Bilbo Baggins

What it all means
I've been on the verge of quitting the game for quite a while now and I have absolutely no idea how this is going to motivate me to keep playing. The idea of having to wait another couple of months for any new content while at the same time having it dangled in front of my eyes terrifies me. This is not an "OMG, if you do this I quit" threat, but merely an observation. ToC was terrible, and this announcement shows me that things are not going to become any better for a while. I'm unsure if I can keep myself motivated for that long. A guildie suggested yesterday that we should all take a break until Cataclysm. Maybe that isn't a bad idea.
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